Yuletide Baby Surprise - Catherine Mann Page 0,1

indefinitely, either. If only she had a disguise, something to throw people off the scent. Head tucked down, she searched the hall through her eyelashes, taking in a brass luggage rack and monstrously big pots of African feather grass.

Her gaze landed on the perfect answer—a roomservice cart. Apparently abandoned. She scanned for anyone in a hotel uniform, but saw only the retreating back of a woman walking away quickly, a cell phone pressed to her ear. Mari chewed her lip for half a second then sprinted forward and stopped just short of the cloth-draped trolley.

She peeked under the silver tray. The mouth-watering scent of saffron-braised karoo lamb made her stomach rumble. And the tiramisu particularly tempted her to find the nearest closet and feast after a long day of talking without a break for more than coffee and water. She shook off indulgent thoughts. The sooner she worked her way back to her room, the sooner she could end this crazy day with a hot shower, her own tray of food and a soft bed.

Delivering the room-service cart now offered her best means of disguise. A hotel jacket was even draped over the handle and a slip of paper clearly listed Suite 5A as the recipient.

The sound of the elevator doors opening spurred her into action.

Mari shrugged the voluminous forest-green jacket over her rumpled black suit. A red Father Christmas hat slipped from underneath the hotel uniform. All the better for extra camouflaging. She yanked on the hat over her upswept hair and started pushing the heavily laden cart toward the suite at the end of the hall, just as voices swelled behind her.

“Do you see her?” a female teen asked in Portuguese, her squeaky tones drifting down the corridor. “I thought you said she ran up the stairs to the fifth floor.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t the fourth?” another high-pitched girl answered.

“I’m certain,” a third voice snapped. “Get your phone ready. We can sell these for a fortune.”

Not a chance.

Mari shoved the cart. China rattled and the wheels creaked. Damn, this thing was heavier than it looked. She dug her heels in deeper and pushed harder. Step by step, past carved masks and a pottery elephant planter, she walked closer to suite 5A.

The conspiring trio drew closer. “Maybe we can ask that lady with the cart if she’s seen her….”

Apprehension lifted the hair on the back of Mari’s neck. The photos would be all the more mortifying if they caught her in this disguise. She needed to get inside suite 5A. Now. The numbered brass plaque told her she was at the right place.

Mari jabbed the buzzer, twice, fast.

“Room service,” she called, keeping her head low.

Seconds ticked by. The risk of stepping inside and hiding her identity from one person seemed far less daunting than hanging out here with the determined group and heaven only knew who else.

Just when she started to panic that time would run out, the door opened, thank God. She rushed past, her arms straining at the weight of the cart and her nose catching a whiff of manly soap. Her favorite scent—clean and crisp rather than cloying and obvious. Her feet tangled for a second.

Tripping over her own feet as she shoved the cart was far from dignified. But she’d always been too gangly to be a glamour girl. She was more of a cerebral type, a proud nerd, much to the frustration of her family’s press secretary, who expected her to present herself in a more dignified manner.

Still, even in her rush to get inside, curiosity nipped at her. What type of man would choose such a simple smell while staying in such opulence? But she didn’t dare risk a peek at him.

She eyed the suite for other occupants, even though the room-service cart only held one meal. One very weighty meal. She shoved the rattling cart past a teak lion. The room appeared empty, the lighting low. Fat leather sofas and a thick wooden table filled the main space. Floor-to-ceiling shutters had been slid aside to reveal the moonlit beach outside a panoramic window. Lights from stars and yachts dotted the horizon. Palms and fruit trees with lanterns illuminated the shore. On a distant islet, a stone church perched on a hill.

She cleared her throat and started toward the table by the window. “I’ll set everything up on the table for you.”

“Thanks,” rumbled a hauntingly familiar voice that froze her in her tracks. “But you can just leave it there by the